I suppose there’s nowhere to begin other than the big reveal, given that it is by an outlandish margin the single worst lore reveal in the entire history of Doctor Who. Making the Doctor the secret origin of all of the Time Lords is absolutely appalling—the sort of “the main character must be the center of the mythology” crap that Doctor Who is historically at its best when it rebels against. Instead of being the schlubby mediocrity who ran away and stumbled through becoming a hero without ever realizing that was what they were working towards, the Doctor is now the Most Specialist Time Lord That Ever Did Time Lord, with magic powers above and beyond the other Time Lords and origins stretching back beyond even the days of Rassilon. The series is now committed to an endless parade of reveals about the secret history of Gallifrey, all of which the Doctor was apparently there for. It’s genuinely terrible—a reveal that takes the dumbest instincts of the Virgin era and strips off the brakes and hedges. It’s not the Other but the Doctor themself that’s at the heart of Gallifreyan history now. It’s as if the Cartmel Masterplan fucked the Leekley Bible and then gave the illegitimate child away to Ian Levine to foster.
Astonishingly, though, none of that actually captures how bad it is. It’s worth actually explaining the reveal out loud with words, so as to actually make your mind confront what happened here. The Shabogans are the indigenous people of Gallifrey who became the Time Lords by stealing the secrets of regeneration from the Doctor’s DNA. Seriously. Say that sentence out loud. Walk up to your bathroom mirror and look yourself in the eyes as you deliver those exact words in an even and calm tone. Repeat until you can do it with conviction, without bursting out laughing. It’ll be a good, healing experience.
As for the episode around it… it’s tempting to just derisively laugh and say “what episode around it.” The Doctor stands around for forty-five minutes while men explain the plot to her. Then, for a resolution, a character whose narrative importance after two episodes consists of “he’s played by a guy who was a minor character in Game of Thrones” swoops in to save the day. The companions have nothing to do but make tepid contributions to the tedious action sequences that fill the gaps between the equally tedious infodumps. The only characters with motivation are the Master and the Cybermen, whose motivation consists of a tattered post-it note saying “be evil.” Macguffins are simply vomited forth out of the ruins of Gallifrey whenever called for, most trashily as the Master casually goes “oh, but I kept all the bodies around.” A key piece of information is delivered to the Doctor in the form of “handily, there’s a legend that addresses the specific thing you’re wondering about.” The specific thing she’s wondering about, incidentally, is actually called the “death particle.” You may want to head back to the mirror and tell yourself that with a straight face too.
Throughout the series I’ve been asking who this is for. Now we have our answer: Series 12 of Doctor Who is a lengthy missive to Ian Levine, groveling at his feet and begging him to come back. “I’ll do anything. I’ll do a fourth R of the Daleks story. I’ll bring back the block-headed Cybermen. I’ll confirm the Morbius Doctors. Just come back.” There’s nothing else here. No other message or insight into the world. Just fanwank for the sake of fanwank. Big revelations about lore that come down to “the fan favorite bits are absolutely the most important things in the series and we promise to never actually challenge or disrupt you in any way.” Finally, we can all see what The Rise of Skywalker would have looked like on a shitty BBC budget.
Is there a way back from this? It’s honestly tough to say. Doctor Who has ignored revelations this big before (indeed, it’s difficult to see how “half human on my mother’s side” could possibly be true now, despite apparently being confirmed by Hell Bent, which, to be fair, it remains unclear whether Chibnall has actually seen), but that was aided by nine years off the air and a revival that spent a few years being deathly allergic to continuity. This is obviously going to be picked up on next season. And by asking specific questions tied to big chunks of lore, it effectively hangs a loaded gun on the mantlepiece. Unlike the Hybrid, where Moffat cleaned up after himself and ensured that nobody would ever have to deal with his earth-shattering revelations about the Doctor’s origin again, Chibnall has set this up to be reckoned with. Obviously his story is ongoing and he has reveals to include, but he’s deliberately opened a gap larger than he can fill. Any revelation about the past lore of Gallifrey now has the Doctor written into it as a major figure.
Much like someone was (and is) always going to bring back Gallifrey, some writer is going to give in to the easy temptation of delving into the vast secret history of the Doctor/Time Lords. We are very likely stuck with this radically different view of what Doctor Who lore is like. Much like Robert Holmes’s “twelve regenerations” line, this is something that’s going to come back. Except that Holmes was just hurriedly solving a plot problem in the story he was writing. Chibnall absolutely intends to be forcing every future writer to play in his sandbox. His goal is to shove Doctor Who into the straitjacket of bog standard cult SF lore reveals. That the result doesn’t make a goddamn bit of sense, trampling gamely on continuity from An Unearthly Child (why the hell is the Ruth Doctor’s TARDIS a police box? To say nothing of the characterization in that story as the Doctor learns to be a hero, something he apparently always was given his status as a Super Secret Agent for the Time Lords) to Time of the Doctor (so what, did the Time Lords just send an idle wisp of energy at the Doctor for show?) is beside the point. This is the lore now. Even if some subsequent writer goes to the heroic lengths to ignore this that it deserves, we’re stuck with this as a Major Revelation to be explored. Maybe something not terrible can come out of this. More likely, this is the rare story that does permanent damage to what Doctor Who is.
I’d say “we’ll see,” but I’m honestly not sure. For the first time since the TV Movie, I feel prepared to walk away from Doctor Who. I honestly don’t know if I’m going to review Revolution of the Daleks. I honestly don’t know if I’m going to do a Whittaker-era Eruditorum. I don’t actually think there’s anything to be said about this era of Doctor Who, and I’m not sure I care about anything that follows up on rendering the show a piece of generic sci-fi television for the convention crowd. This isn’t good television. It isn’t interesting television. And while I reserve the right to change my mind, I honestly don’t think I want to watch it anymore.
Somewhere between the TV Movie and The Twin Dilemma.